I thought I’d reprint my best of list from the current issue of the Comics Journal.TCJ #296, just in case anyone was interested.
As I say every year about this time, I don’t actually make any effort at all to keep up with new releases, so this is more a list of things I happened to see and love this year than an actual best-of.
Ai Yazawa’s Nana #8 (Viz Media) is my favorite volume of the only ongoing series I follow.
Hitoshi Iwaaka’s Parasyte was one of the first manga I read, and it’s still a marvel — I haven’t seen all the volumes of the ongoing Del Ray reissue yet, but the translation is definitely superior to the earlier TokyoPop edition.
Ariel Schrag’s Potential (Touchstone) is a reissue of one of the best (and most underrated) comics of the last couple of decades.
Lilli Carré’s The Lagoon (Fantagraphics) is a great first book by an extremely talented artist; a lyrical mind-fuck of time, identity, and genre.
Lyrical mind-fuck also describes the opera/graphic thing/poem/performance that is Dewayne Slightweight’s The Kinship Structure of Ferns (self-published). Seeing Dewayne perform it live is something else, but for the vast majority of folks who missed it, the hand-bound book comes complete with a play-along CD of his original music.
Dame Darcy’s “We Are the Fae and There Is No Death,” from Meatcake #17, is a horror story masquerading as a fairy tale, and is also about as beautiful an example of either as I ever hope to see in comics form. It made me wish Darcy would adapt some Lovecraft or Poe…though I’ll settle for the illustrated version of Wuthering Heights she promised us a few years back.
Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four: Silver Rage (Marvel) actually came out at the end of 2007, but what the hey. Artist Mike Wieringo’s art is okay as super-hero fare goes, but Jeff Parker’s smart, goofy, all-ages writing is the thing. He’s more-or-less single-handedly restoring my faith in the super-hero genre.
Also helpful in that regard is Showcase Presents: The Brave and the Bold, reprinting the series’ classic 1970s heyday in 500-page plus black-and-white phone books. Volume 2 came out at the tale end of 2007, and while it’s a bit uneven, at it’s best it’s stunning. It would be worth getting for Bob Haney’s brilliantly nutty scripts alone, much less the eye-popping art by the likes of Nick Cardy and Jim Aparo. Issue #104, “Second Chance for a Deadman?” is probably the best Batman story ever written, for my money. Volume 3 of the series, which should be every bit as good, is scheduled for December 2008.
Dan Walsh’s inspired alterations of Garfield comics at www.garfieldminusgarfield.net made me laugh so hard I got hiccups. Basically, Walsh simply removes the titular cat from the strip, leaving Garfield’s owner, Jon, talking to himself in an arid suburban wasteland. Thanks to Davis’ good humor — and his eagle-eye for promotional opportunities — the site has spawned a book, Garfield Minus Garfield from Ballantine which features excerpts from the site, as well as a few détourned strips by Davis himself.
Mr. Door Tree at Golden Age Comic Book Stories this year published a jaw-dropping portfolio of illustrations by Dugald Stewart Walker for the 1918 book “The Boy Who Knew What the Bird Said”. I’d never heard of Walker before, but he is now one of my favorite artists; his fairy-tale illustrations are unbelievable. Unfortunately, that post seems to have been deleted. As of this writing, there is another selection of Walker’s art on the site at this address
Finally, and most self-indulgently: my favorite comic of 2008 was Edie Fake’s “Call the Corners,” which he created as his submission to the online forum The Gay Utopia, which I organized and edited. “Call the Corners” is a single, enormous image; onscreen, you scroll down it, following an elliptical message, more poem than narrative. It’s influenced by Fort Thunder and by tattoo art, but the synthesis is completely unique. I was deliriously happy to be able to publish it — it sort of made me feel my existence was justified, at least for this year. You can find it here.
Like pretty much every other hipster drone, I like to preen myself on the eclectic idiosyncrasy of my taste. Normally, therefore, I’d be thrilled to report that, unless I missed something (which I could have), of the nineteen other folks who contributed lists, none of them picked any of the books I did. Not one. This is me taking a victory lap….
Okay, done now. But in every apple there is a thorn, in every worm a cloud…or something like that. The point is, I figured nobody else was going to choose Edie Fake or Dugald Stewart Walker, and I wasn’t surprised to see that nobody else picked Parayte, but I was really hoping that Lilli Carré would get more love. I mean…Fantagraphics-issued, totally alt-comics friendly, weird, beautiful book. Maybe it came out too late in the year? (I got an advance copy because I wrote this ecstatic review for the Chicago Reader.)
I also wanted to talk a little bit about the manga coverage. Last year I noted that the Journal’s best of list was very, very light on the manga coverage. I think the journal has actually done better with manga coverage in general since then, and this year’s selection seemed to be somewhat more manga friendly. Partly that’s because Johnny Ryan picked almost entirely manga for his list. Kristy Valenti had a few selections as well, too. (Bill didn’t choose any manga, I don’t think — presumably because, as he mentioned a bit back, he doesn’t really read manga in translation so much.) Another factor is that there were two big arty manga releases that made a lot of people’s lists — Travel by Yuichi Yokoyama (which might have made my list if I’d read it at that point — I have a review of it forthcoming in the Journal) and Red Colored Elegy (which I haven’t read.)
As a sort of balance, there was less coverage of mainstream American super-hero stuff in the lists this year than last, I think. Someone (Rich Kreiner, I think) picked a couple of DC’s reprint collections, but other than that, if you weren’t Grant Morrison, you didn’t show up on anybody’s scorecard. So, really, the pulpier regions of manga and the mainstream both got similarly short shrift, making it less a “the journal doesn’t care about manga” thing than the more familiar “Journal not all that into pulp, necessarily” thing.
I must say, I also just wondered in general…best of lists in March? Why? I mean, I understand why it’s worthwhile or interesting to have Kim Deitch and Lynda Barry and Johnny Ryan say what they’re into at any time of the year. But someone like me — I don’t know. Best of lists seem like the whole point is to be timely and newsy, and if it’s not that, is there really a reason to bother? It seems like the Journal’s competitive advantage is in having longer, in depth pieces, not short, news driven lists (unless those lists are from industry figures, like Kim Deitch and Lynda Barry and so forth.)
But, on the other hand, it’s not like I know anything about marketing. And I read through the lists and enjoyed agreeing (always happy to see somebody fawn over Clamp) or disagreeing (somebody chose that crappy Howard Zinn comic?!), or just learning about something new.
There were also a couple of really nice longer articles in this issue about topics I know nothing about: Matthias Wieval wrote about French comics, and Tim Kreider had a long essay about Bill Mauldin. Matthias has a new regular column in TCJ, apparently, which sounds like it’ll be great. And I don’t remember seeing Tim Kreider’s stuff before, though I hope he keeps writing for them.